SINGAPORE: Today paper suspends blogger's column

Government had recently slammed mr brown's latest article on the high cost of living in Singapore

Straits Times
Friday, July 7, 2006

The Today newspaper has suspended a regular column by a well-known blogger known as mr brown, after the Government criticised his latest piece about the high cost of living here.

The suspension of the weekly column takes effect today, said the freesheet's editor-in-chief Mano Sabnani.

"It is the decision of the editors of Today. That is all I have to say," he said in an e-mail reply to The Straits Times yesterday, four days after the paper published the Government's rebuttal on the column.

The columnist's real name is Mr Lee Kin Mun, a 36-year-old full-time writer.

In his column last Friday, titled "Singaporeans are fed, up with progress," he commented that increases in taxi fare and electricity tariffs had come after the polls and at a time when a government survey showed a widening income gap.

The Government issued a strong response, which Today published on Monday.

Ms K. Bhavani, press secretary to the Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica), said Mr Brown's views "distort the truth" and offered no solutions.

"His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with," she said.

Ms Bhavani added that opinions widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards.

Her parting words: "It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government.

"If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics."

Mr Lee announced the column's suspension on his own blog, called mrbrown, yesterday morning. The father of three said it has been a "trying few days" for him and his family.

When contacted, he declined to say more.

But news of the suspension stirred the local blogging community and Mr Lee received more than 400 responses on his site by last night, most of which were critical of Today's decision.

Mr Lee became particularly well-known for producing satirical podcasts during the May 6 General Election. Most notable was his parody of the James Gomez episode with a bak chor mee (minced pork noodle) seller berating a customer.

Political observers such as Mr Tan Tarn How, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, did not support Today's decision to suspend the column.

"If you believe that pluralism is good, this is an unfortunate case of mass media censorship, or self-censorship," he said.

He believed it was "probably intended" by the Government. Otherwise, it would not have attacked the columnist.

Media academic Cherian George said the Government statement is drawing a clear line between alternative niche media and mainstream media.

This is because newspapers have been trying to up their hip quotient by co-opting aspects of online culture, including celebrity bloggers.

"Just because it is tolerated online does not mean it is acceptable to give the same individual the same status in a more public platform," he said.

MP Penny Low, who is expected to be the new chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Mica, said that anyone can express his views online or offline, but freedom comes with responsibility.

"Obviously, anyone -- Government, media or any individual -- can offer their counter views or supporting views. And, it is for the concerned party to decide on what they want to do with the view or situation."